Walmart has answered the lawsuit filed on behalf of Tracy Morgan and three others who were injured in a six-car pileup on the New Jersey turnpike, after one of the company’s trucks slammed into Morgan’s bus, leaving several critically injured and killing comedian James McNair. Responding to charges of negligence in allowing its driver, Kevin Roper, to be on the road for more than 24 hours (an allegation Roper has denied), Walmart—which has a history of maintaining that the victims are partially to blame for Walmart-related injuries—replied that Morgan’s injuries “were caused, in whole or in part, by plaintiffs’ failure to properly wear an appropriate available seatbelt restraint device.”
Beyond saying Morgan “acted unreasonably and in disregard of plaintiffs’ own best interests” by not wearing his seatbelt, Walmart’s attorneys offered nine defenses in total. Furthermore, it claimed it was unable to “admit or deny” any of the specific allegations, saying its role in the ongoing National Transportation Safety Board investigation precludes it from doing so. Still, it was able to admit that Morgan and his fellow passengers were at fault, while also denying their right to sue.
In the nine affirmative defenses delivered to federal court, Walmart disputes that there’s any basis for those allegations; that it’s directly responsible for the driver or any “third parties” who may have caused the damages; and that the defendants failed to “mitigate their losses” by not wearing their seatbelts, before its truck created those losses by plowing into them. Furthermore, it proposes that Walmart could actually end up the critically injured party here, seeing as the lawsuit violates its right to due process—because, it argues, the company “did not engage in any wanton or willful conduct that would warrant an award of punitive damages.”
Assessing those damages is likely to be the next step, as Walmart has demanded that Morgan et al. submit a written statement offering a specific tally. Presumably this is so the company can use that to determine an out-of-court settlement, once the public furor over blaming a famous victim has reached its peak.